Lamu’s tourism industry in urgent need of a bail out and rescue package


(Posted 06th October 2014)

Stark news are emerging from Lamu, that the owners of several hotels are ready to throw in the towel and put their properties on the market, not that there will be many takers since the tourism industry in this ancient town has suffered tremendously over the past months.

Two of the town’s once popular hotels, Petley’s Inn at the main quay and waterfront and the luxurious Lamu Palace were named as two hotels now being sold, though unconfirmed word has it that at least two more owners have faced up to the inevitable and decided to sell out.

Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has always been a magnet for those wanting to journey back in time, as the old town has remained literally unchanged from the olden days and even modern day Kenya has not left much of an imprint on the facades, the buildings and the way of life Lamu residents have lived over the centuries other than cell towers for mobile communications.

Though there will be several festivals held in Lamu over the next few months have tourism operators voiced growing concern that they will go broke as a result of the very low visitor numbers, many of them scared off as a result of negative anti travel advisories, but also as a result of those still daring to visit being marooned in their resorts in the evening, unable to venture out as a result of a curfew. Imposed by Kenya’s top cop has the curfew, indiscriminately slapped on the town, done as much damage to the restaurants and hotels as the anti-travel messages published by embassies and High Commissions.

The Lamu Tourism Association was quoted in the details sent from Mombasa that business had reduced by over 90 percent, making it difficult if not impossible for investors to stay financially afloat.

As reported here has one of Kenya’s leading publishers of hospitality guides and news, Go Places, offered their PR and marketing services to Lamu to help rekindle interest for travel to the island, but according to a regular coast tourism stakeholder much more must be done by the government to support investors during these trying times to help them survive. ‘Now that so many hosted buyers and international media people are in Kenya for the Magical Kenya Travel Expo, I wonder how many have been sent to Lamu to experience the tranquility and the peace which prevails there. They should send as many travel media to Lamu as possible to get good publicity and help them to revive their sector’. Surely a valid point though a bit late in the day as the MKTE 2014 kicks off in two days’ time and all arrangements for media houses and hosted buyers had been made weeks in advance with little chance of last minute changes to include a flying visit to Lamu.

All said and done though, it is obvious for the informed observers of the Kenya scene that Lamu itself was never under any form of threat which would justify the blanket travel bans imposed by foreign diplomatic missions. Considering that most foreign visitors actually fly to Lamu, from Nairobi’s Wilson airport or the coast airports of Mombasa and Malindi, there is indeed an urgent need to review those anti travel advisories and help the tourism stakeholders to get back on their feet. Fodder for thought no doubt.

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